Woman with a natural curly hair.
August 18, 2023

Understanding Curly Hair Types: How to Identify and Care for Your Curls

Not all curls are the same. It is yet another reason – among a few – that makes it challenging to manage and care for curly hair. But that is also the beauty of it: curly hair comes in various textures and patterns. The first step to managing your curls is identifying your curly hair type. This step will unlock ways to achieve your best hair (and curls!) possible. 

Why Does it Matter to Identify Curly Hair Types?

Curly hair is a struggle to maintain. That is a fact. Many naturally curly-haired women struggle to keep their hair frizz-free and well-hydrated. The natural curl patterns and the shape of the follicle are just a few factors that can make it difficult to maintain curly hair.

Therefore, you should always start by identifying your curly hair type and pattern to help inform you of the best hair care routine and curly hair products to add to your regimen. Since each curl differs, you also require a different approach to keep them healthy and stronger.

Why does curly hair require more attention than straight hair? The curls and angles of curly hair make the cuticle layer of each hair follicle prone to damage. Hydrating the curly hair strands, especially the ends, is also challenging. The natural oil from the scalp cannot reach the ends, so moisturising the strands is a struggle. 

Woman with a different curl type.

Guide to Curly Hair Types

When people say ‘curly hair,’ they often think they’re all the same. But not all curls are the same. There are nine different curl types and three curl patterns. These differences add to the complexity of caring for curly hair. 

Before you can learn how to care for each curl type, it is essential to know about each type.

First, we’ll discuss the three curl patterns you’ll find in curly hair types.

1. Wavy Hair

Wavy hair refers to from fine and thin curls to coarse and frizzy. Based on the curl chart, wavy hair can be classified as type 2A, 2B, and 2C. 

This curl pattern is barely noticeable to hair that can be mistaken for curly hair. This curly hair type looks straight when wet but creates a rippled look when the strands dry. It differs from curly hair because it does not swirl or wrap around the strands. 

Type 2A is straight from the crown but curls or creases towards the ends. The waves are subtle enough to differentiate it from a straight hair type. This hair type requires minimum styling, and the waves naturally appear even if you air-dry your strands. When caring for Type 2A hair, choose products with a lightweight formula to avoid weighing the strands down. Invest in products that also balance the movement of waves. 

Type 2B is similar to 2A because it is straight from the crown. However, unlike 2A, wherein the waves form toward the end, this one starts to form waves in the middle. The waves are also bouncier and more defined than type 2A hair. Therefore, you need products that keep the waves from tangling. Investing in a gentle shampoo and conditioner is also crucial to preserve the health of the curls and keep them bouncy. Because this curl type is more prone to frizz than 2A, you must add a leave-in conditioner to your hair routine to keep the waves intact.

Finally, Type 2C is characterised by small to medium size waves. The waves are more defined to create the S shape. This type straddles the border between wavy and curly hair. This wavy hair type is distinguishable from curly hair because it does not form springs. It is highly prone to frizz, so hair serums and leave-in conditioners will be your best ally in caring for this wavy hair type. If you invest in a frizz-fighting product, choose a lightweight formula.

2. Curly

Like wavy hair, there are three curly patterns: 3A, 3B, and 3C. 

This curl pattern refers to hair types that have springs and corkscrew shapes. Hair becomes wavy when wet but transforms into a three-dimensional curl when dry. Each strand is unique, so you must invest in products designed for frizz and curls. Curly hair types range from fine, medium, and thick. Some also feature wavy, coily, or both. 

The Type 3A curl pattern, characterised by large and soft curls, refers to stretched spirals with a large diameter that start from the crown. This curl type feels smooth and has a bouncy attribute to the hair strands. It is the easiest curl to manage and won't require much styling if you invest in the right products. You can use hair milk to add shine to your curls. 

Curly hair cleanser.

The Type 3B curl pattern features well-defined springs and looks like corkscrews. The spirals give a bouncy and complete look to the hair. It won't need a boost in volume, but it can be prone to breakage and frizz. You can maintain the health of this curl type by drying it with a cotton t-shirt since it is more forgiving and does not irritate the strands. The best products for the 3B curl type are hair serums and oils.

Finally, the Type 3C curl pattern is smaller and more tightly packed than the other two curl patterns. It is a delicate curl type that requires a detangling comb to manage the hair from tip to root. This combing pattern reduces damage to the hair strands. Use a gentle shampoo and cleansing conditioner to keep this curl type soft and supple. 

3. Coily

Coily hair is the final type of curl pattern for this hair type. There are three types of coily hair patterns: coiled (4A), zig-zag (4B), and tightly coiled (4C). 

The coily hair types range from tightly coiled to a compact zig-zag pattern. Some curl types shrink and change shape when dried, so you can pick the best products to care for these hair types by examining the hair when wet and dry.

The coil type 4A features a distinct S shape in a tight loop. This hair type is vulnerable to damage; invest in a shampoo and conditioner for curly hair with intense moisturising formulas.

The next type of coily hair pattern is 4B. The tiny zig-zag pattern is compressed and coiled like an S. The coily hair type is versatile and can be styled in different ways. Therefore, it can tolerate various hair care products but invest in shampoos and conditioners made with organic ingredients. It is most vulnerable when wet, so ensure it is dry before styling.

The 4C coily hair type is the most fragile because of its tight coils. Getting frequent and intense moisture on coily hair is crucial to prevent breakage. Use a deep conditioning treatment weekly to nourish your strands from within.